A thin-blooded debut novel that follows a young man through the summer of his 18th birthday. Dubus (the story collection The Cage Keeper, 1989) moves through the same New England backwaters as his father and speaks in tones of similar gloom, but without the depth and restraint that this territory demands. Leo Sutter is just beginning to piece things together. Done with school but not ready for college, he works as carpenter by day and plays the blues harmonica by night, and doesn't take the talk of riots and Vietnam very seriously. It's 1967. His girlfriend's father is a Communist and has a lot to say, but Leo is more interested in his own songs and his mother's letters. Although she died when Leo was five, Mrs. Sutter wrote him a sheaf of poems and notes that his father has just turned over, as a kind of inheritance. Here, Leo finds the beginning of his own story—the circumstances that enclose his origin and his fate. Despite some highly melodramatic scenarios, Dubus manages to keep the volume pretty low throughout—too much so, in fact. This is essentially a novel of discovery and change, but we're not shown how the discoveries register or what exactly precipitates the transformation. At the end, Leo goes forth in search of a new life, but it's hard to see a connection between this final departure and what's preceded it. The narrative, as fine as it is, ultimately has a rather hollow ring—and needs badly to encase something more than it has been given. Rather flat and wide of the mark: a disappointment.
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